In roughly 24 hours, Mary Pierce would take Center Court at her beloved Roland Garros and compete in her first Grand Slam final in five years. So what would her tactics be against the heavily favored Justine Henin-Hardenne in Saturday's French Open final?
Pierce hadn't given it any thought, she confessed during a news conference Friday morning.
And what would her afternoon's schedule consist of?
Pierce wasn't quite sure. Lunch, of course. A nap. "And after," she added, "we'll see."
Pierce wasn't being evasive. And she wasn't as blithe as she sounded on the eve of the match. Her laissez-faire approach to Saturday's final, rather, is more the result of a professional tennis career that has spanned 16 years, more heartbreak than triumph, wrenching injury and, ultimately, inner peace.
After plenty of coaxing, Pierce conceded that to be playing in her third French Open final, at age 30, was "enormous."
"At the same time," she said, "it's not only that which is important in life. It's going to last a short time. After, life will continue."
Pierce is a decided underdog against Henin-Hardenne, 23, who won the tournament in 2003 and who has beaten her in their three previous meetings. But she insists that she doesn't view the challenge as insurmountable despite what experience and statistics might say.
Henin-Hardenne returned to tennis this spring after being sidelined seven months by injury and illness, and she's currently riding a 23-match winning streak. She faced two match points here against Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, but otherwise has looked invincible on the Parisian clay, her favorite surface.
"Nobody is unbeatable," Pierce said. "Nothing is impossible. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. It's going to be very difficult. . . . My state of mind is stepping onto the court and appreciating every moment."
The French Open is the title both players hold most dear. Pierce's mother is French; Henin-Hardenne is a native French speaker and dedicated her 2003 title to her late mother, who first brought her to Roland Garros when she was 11.
"The one who will manage the emotions best will win," Henin-Hardenne said Friday. "For [Pierce], of course, she's happy, also. It means more for her than before. But it's the same for me. It's a beautiful story."
Navratilova Falls in Final
Martina Navratilova, 48, was stopped one match short of her 59th Grand Slam title Friday, as she and Leander Paes fell to Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Fabrice Santoro of France in the mixed-doubles final, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.